Oratorical contest gives voice to LEEP Project Pioneers’ experiences

Participants in the Hervey Ross Leep Talks contest included, from left: Sharon Bort ’14, Shaun Holt ’14, Shelby Margolin ’13, Hervey Ross ’50, L.H.D. ’07, Irene Nakabonge-Lugude ’13, Alison Mayer ’13, Zach Hariton ’13, Deviyani Dixit ’13, and Becca Rood-Goldman ’14.

“I have grown up surrounded by ghosts of the Holocaust.”

With that line, Shelby Margolin ’13 delivered an impassioned and seamless speech that earned her first place in the Hervey Ross LEEP Talks at Clark University.

Visit the LEEP website for more videos and information about the Pioneers.

The event, held Oct. 18 in the Michelson Theater, brought together eight LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) Project Pioneers, who made presentations about the summer internships that provided them opportunities to thrive in professional settings. Their work sent them into the corporate world and onto the dusty roads of the American West, into the digital thicket of distributed computer systems at Amazon and to the edge of a sprawling landfill outside San Francisco, where efforts are underway to counteract the nation’s trash problem.

This past summer, the Pioneers were the first Clark students to undertake specialized LEEP projects that melded academic learning with real-world experience.

Margolin’s speech recounted her family’s commitment to collecting the testimonies of Holocaust survivors in multiple volumes that lined their bookshelves. When she arrived at Clark to major in Holocaust studies, Margolin realized she had never given much thought to the perpetrators of these atrocities. She began researching the context and motivations behind their monstrous acts, mindful of the fact that to truly understand the history she needed to pull away at its most unpleasant underpinnings.

The struggle, she noted, was that by breaking the comfortable stereotype that the perpetrators are “distant others and impossible to replicate,” some might accuse her of justifying their actions and “betraying the survivors on my father’s bookshelves.” But as she developed a Holocaust-education lesson plan for high school students under the aegis of the Facing History and Ourselves organization, she knew her main directive was to present the truth, in all its messy complexity, foment critical thinking among students, and expand the understanding of human rights abuses.

Second-place winner Sharon Bort ’14 worked at Recology, Inc., a San Francisco-based company specializing in municipal resource recovery that embraces the methods of recycling, reuse and reduction. Bort focused her efforts on e-waste — typically the discarded components of computers and other electronics — that create toxic hazards. She conducted research on the recycling of specific commodities like e-waste and latex paint, and created an educational module about going “waste-zero” and linking recycling to such issues as climate change and water quality. “Making connections between your garbage and big issues like climate change is not always so obvious,” Bort said.

Rather than describe his LEEP project, which involved creating a video about sustainability measures at EMC Corp. in Hopkinton, Mass., Shaun Holt ’13 shifted gears and delivered an animated presentation about overcoming the communication challenges in a large corporation. Holt covered subjects like how to write an email that will guarantee a response, cultivating relationships through phone conversations, and how best to maximize “the occasional cubicle visit.”

Be professional, he advised, but don’t forget the personal touch. “We are all humans, and humans like to talk to each other.”

Other contestants shared a wide array of experiences:

  • Becca Rood-Goldman ’14 talked of blending art with science while studying the evolution of leeches at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
  • Irene Nakabonge-Lugude ’13 discussed her research project that evaluates medical trainees’ comprehension of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s duty-hour requirements. She noted that sleep deprivation among overworked medical residents has been cited as a factor in substandard medical care of some patients.
  • Deviyani Dixit ’13 offered compelling testimony on the plight of the transgendered community in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Alison Mayer ’13 described the making of her documentary, “Westing,” as “a sort of Frankenstein monster taking on a life of its own.” The film addresses issues surrounding American identity and the myths of the West.
  • Zach Hariton ’13 explained how building a large-scale expanding cloud service will help meet the voracious demand for online services.

Margolin was awarded the $500 first prize. The second prize of $250 went to Bort, and Holt earned the $150 third prize. Dixit was awarded the “Audience Favorite” award of $100.

“You were all terrific,” said the contest sponsor Hervey Ross ’50, L.H.D. ’07, adding that each speaker’s deep involvement with the topic made for effective presentations. He also offered some practical advice to the presenters, suggesting they move around less onstage and not rely on notes.

Ross has been sponsoring the student oratorical contest at Clark since 2005. Public speaking has been a passion of his since his student days at Worcester Academy and throughout his Clark career. After leaving Clark, he became a successful businessman and owner of one of the nation’s largest specialty insurance agencies.

The contestants also delivered their speeches on Oct. 19 for the Clark University Board of Trustees.

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